Well here we go. This one took way longer than I expected it to, and to be honest I’m still not happy with it, but I’ve got other ideas I want to play with so near enough is good enough.
Rell’s reply caught in her throat as she saw Fionn scowl at the press of people. He continued without looking at her.
“This whole enterprise is a foolish risk.”
She smiled. “You think there are assassins hiding in the crowd?” Her tone was playful, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him.
“You must admit it’s possible,” he replied. “Sooner or later, the old men in Ara will tire of sending threats and bribes – if nothing else, Alexei’s made it quite clear that they don’t work. How much longer do you think it will be before they resort to more traditional methods?”
Rell sighed. “Isn’t this precisely why his highness has guards?” It was true, after all; the prince was flanked by two humourless men with swords, and there were at least a dozen more scattered through the room.
Fionn’s dark expression changed to something closer to resignation. “They do their best, I have no doubt, but I’ve yet to see a man move faster than a crossbow bolt.” His frown returned, fierce and uncompromising. “No, I’d be much happier if he listened to the people at greater remove. He has no shortage of pretty faces to do so on his behalf.”
“And to die in his stead, I suppose.” Rell looked sidelong at her companion. “Is that what you hope for, my lord? You make no secret of your dislike for me, but I must say I’m curious as to why. Do you think I carry a dagger for your master’s back?”
Fionn’s face was stony. “I think you carry a torch for him.”
“And that makes me your enemy?”
He shook his head. “It makes you unpredictable. Love only ever leads to trouble.”
“A conclusion drawn from your many years of experience, no doubt.” Rell stepped back and examined him. Short, slight, unremarkably dressed, and still holding a completely neutral expression. “You don’t need to act with me, you know.”
He remained impassive. “I don’t act.”
She laughed. “And I fly off to the moon every night to sleep! Come now, Fionn, be realistic. You’re a very good liar, I don’t doubt it, but I’m not stupid.” She waved at the rest of the prince’s entourage. “You may have convinced that lot, but I make a habit of thinking through life, and I don’t think you add up. But it’s such a wonderful story, isn’t it! The prince’s shadow, coming and going at all hours, sneaking around unseen, living without any friends or family. Quiet little Fionn, a pretty young thing with a heart made of stone, willing to lie, steal and murder so the prince need not get his hands dirty. Such devotion!”
“Do I amuse you?” Fionn narrowed his eyes. “You say I dislike you, but right now it seems that you’re the one trying to antagonise me.” He stepped forward and fixed her with a stare. “What are you hoping to provoke?”
Rell lowered her eyes and smiled. “My words were not intended to provoke you, my lord; I simply wished to gain your attention. And,” she said, looking him in the eye, “to let you know that I’m willing to hear you out if you ever want a real conversation. I’m sure you tire of playing your role every now and then.” She waited for a reaction, but the boy’s face had closed up again. When he spoke, it was with flawless control.
“Thank you for your concern. If you’ve any other advice-”
“I won’t hesitate to share it with you,” Rell interrupted, giving him a smile. “From one pretty face to another.”
She turned and walked quietly from the room. Fionn said nothing.